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 2003 European Championships

 26 April-4 May 2003

Christian LuraA Norwegian Perspective

by Christian Lura

Journalist, vice chairman of Eikanger-Bjørsvik, and former bass trombone player in the same band


The Europeans in Bergen, 1989: What a weekend to remember! I still recall the feeling of expectation swirling in the Grieg Hall foyer, the buzzing sound of blending languages from people discussing their common passion: Brass banding.

As an eager, trombone-playing, 15-year-old brass-fanatic, I literally sat on first row all day long. Great bands we only knew by reputation played ”Trittico” as if it was the last thing they did on earth.

And then Desford disappointed the crowd, proving to be sore loosers by not accepting the trophy for 4th place. Our local band, Eikanger-Bjørsvik, went on to beat the lot, defending their title from ’88. Norwegian TV told the European results live in their evening news broadcast. Those were the days. The Europeans of ’89 was an experience that, seen in retrospect, seriously influenced my life.

The story of Norwegian brass bands is not an old one. When the Norwegians were given the European championship in 1989, we had only had our own championships for ten years.

Norway has had a wind band tradition for more than a hundred years. The British-style brass bands made a fresh ”second start” for Norwegian banding. And the new all-brass style suited the nation well when it finally found its way to Norwegian shores: In the small borroughs along the western coast, more and more wind bands experienced a recruiting problem thorugh the 60’s and 70’s. The small, often isolated places simply didn’t produce enough band members to make a decent wind sound. The ongoing urbanization made sure that young musicians left to work and study in the bigger cities.

This process is still a major challenge for bands in scattered populated areas of Norway. And in the Norwegian cultural tradition, celebrating the national independence day on 17th of May without a band is no less than a catastrophy. Believe me, this day is equivalent to what most Norwegians associate with banding. In many small communities, they sought new solutions just to keep the band alive until 17th of May. The relatively small crew needed in a brass band looked like a solution to live with.

In the 70’s a small brass band environment developed in the region of Nordhordland, just north of Bergen. Manger Musikklag, one of this year’s Norwegian contenders, were among the pioneering bands.

Five bands founded the ”Brass Band Club” in 1978, and in 1979 the club organised the very first Norwegian championships in the new Grieg Hall in Bergen. The idea, of course, came from England. Band enthusiasts from Norway had discovered the fascinating contest in the Royal Albert Hall. They concluded that contesting was a way to develop the few, but aspiring brass bands in Norway.

Hard work from a lot of enthusiastic people made the Norwegian brass band movement grow, both in quality and in number of bands. Many persons could be mentioned as important in this process. But Rod Franks’ contribution was perhaps the single most important input. He was employed as a trumpeter in the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in 1977, and came almost straight from Black Dyke. In the following years Franks had an enormous influence on the brass band development in the area around Bergen. Many top brass players at the time took lessons from Franks, no matter what brass instrument they played.

In 1979, Franks pulled the strings when Black Dyke came on tour to Bergen. The event was a highlight beyond comparison: The role models in Dyke gave inspiration and thrilling musical experiences. You know the story: Only nine years later, Black Dyke were beaten by a Norwegian band in the Europeans.

Today the brass band enthusiasts in Norway are looking forward to the third European event in the Grieg Hall. I doubt that my expectations will match the ones I had in 1989. But perhaps some of today’s 15-year-olds will get inspired. I sure hope so.

Christian Lura

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